(US/UK - 2014)
Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver. Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Karin Konoval, Terry Notary, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Doc Shaw. (PG-13, 130 mins)
The 2011 reboot RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES was one of the biggest surprises in recent years: a smart summer blockbuster with convincing CGI, anchored by the superb motion capture performance of Andy Serkis as ape leader Caesar. Even in a mere three years, the technology has improved enough that Serkis, the face of cinematic motion capture between his work as Caesar, as Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS films, and in the title role of Peter Jackson's KING KONG, turns in his finest performance yet. Serkis and the other ape actors manage to create living, breathing performances that are visually enhanced by CGI, which is different from letting CGI do all of the work. On top of that, it's just a terrific film, the kind of grand, satisfying, action-packed entertainment that used to be what summer movies were all about. Of any recent summer franchise other than the DARK KNIGHT trilogy, the rebooted PLANET OF THE APES comes the closest to conveying the feeling that these might stand the test of time, certainly more than something along the lines of TRANSFORMERS.
BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) as the template for the first portion of the film with the exploration of the ape community under the leadership of Caesar (played in more classically articulate fashion back then by Roddy McDowall) and his recurring philosophical disagreements with Koba, the new incarnation of BATTLE's warmongering Gen. Aldo (Claude Akins). Like Koba, Aldo commits an unspeakable act but against a different individual and at a different point in the film. DAWN isn't a straight up BATTLE redux, though as it proceeds, it becomes an homage to the second half of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), as McDowall's Caesar leads the ape revolt against the humans. Serkis' Caesar also leads a revolt--teaming with like-minded humans against Kobe's rebel faction of apes as well as a group of humans led by ex-military man Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), who isn't exactly a villain but is more than willing to wipe out the apes if it means the survival of his own community. Almost every character, be they human or ape, has a doppelganger--Malcolm and Caesar in their wish for peace, Dreyfus and Caesar in doing whatever is necessary to protect their kingdom, Carver and Koba in their need for conflict and thirst for blood, Alexander and Blue Eyes as impressionable youths trying to prove something to their fathers. It's these relationships that give DAWN a bit more emotional resonance than your standard summer explosion movie. There's plenty of that, but the strong points of DAWN lie in the quiet moments with little or no dialogue, in a look of understanding and respect, or a touch of hands to signify trust and forgiveness.
THE VETERAN) is so good here that he might even steal some of Serkis' motion-capture thunder. He manages to make Koba more than a one-dimensional villain, as early on, he has no interest in supplanting Caesar as the leader and only acts in his king's best interest. Only later, when his hatred of humans and his long-suppressed anger over his physical and emotional scars pushes him into committing the most forbidden of acts in the ape culture, does he turn into a tyrannical, terrifying monster. Motion capture is such that the actors do the majority of their acting with their eyes and their facial muscles, and even more so than Serkis, Kebbell's eyes sell Koba's rage and hatred in a way that's spine-chilling. It's a remarkable performance in an excellent film in a rebooted franchise that, two films in, has surpassed all expectations of quality and relevance.